Editor’s Note: This is part two of a four-part series on the Four Pillars of a Strong Tourism Community.Last time, I described the second pillar of a strong tourism economy, which is the community’s Political Will. The third pillar of a strong tourism economy is transportation. By that I mean both transportation to an area and transportation to get around an area. These needs bring up related concerns about parking and traffic in town.
Let’s first talk about getting to Durango. As most of us realize, Durango is a drive market. That is, most visitors get to Durango by driving in their automobile. As we sit here today, that has worked just fine, as America loves its cars and, relatively speaking, gas is cheap, having not gone up in price for almost a decade. We also see the automobile industry changing dramatically, from Uber to electric vehicles to self-driving cars.
Until all these coalesce, municipalities continue to experience traffic and parking challenges. In Durango, we have definitely experienced an uptick in traffic over the past few years, and there remains a debate as to whether we need a centrally located parking facility to handle the increasing parking challenges.
Employees who work downtown will say absolutely. City officials who periodically count vacant spaces say not so much. I suspect, for those of us used to small-town convenience (which I still savor, by the way), it is a matter of perspective.
I lived for 30 years in one of the most congested cities in America. I know traffic. We don’t have it. Having foolishly taken a car into places like San Francisco or Chicago, I can tell you that parking is a monumental problem in those places, accompanied by outrageous parking fees and humongous parking structures. We are not there yet, not even close.
As our futuristically-focused City Councilor Dean Brookie will tell you, we may not even need gas stations or parking lots once self-driving, electric Uber-type services dominate the driving market.
In the meantime, we all recognize the importance of a good public transportation system. Currently, the city struggles to support such a system and will soon cut back on services in order to achieve self-sustainability.
The other type of transportation concern is getting to and from Durango. While American Airlines adequately transports business people to and from Dallas and Phoenix at reasonable prices, United monopolizes the Denver route with sporadic service and outrageously jacked-up prices for all unsold seats within 15 days of departure; priced north of $400 for seats bought ahead of time, and higher than $800 if you’re leaving within two weeks. This is highway robbery.
Public officials should do everything to bring competition to the Durango-Denver route and force United to behave and stop gouging our business and leisure travelers.
It is this last limitation that hinders Durango from entering the lucrative business conference industry. Businesses depend on well-planned trade conferences. This industry, despite the growth of the virtual world, is alive, well and thriving.
Unfortunately, we cannot take advantage of it as we cannot compete with other locations in Colorado if we require business people to take two extra days to drive to and from Durango or pay outrageous airfares to get here.
It ties one hand behind our backs despite the attraction and brand Durango offers compared to many other cities. Convenience and logistics are critical and we lack both.
Our vibrant visitor industry cannot last forever if we continue to have all our eggs in one basket, which is the leisure traveler. We need to diversify if we are to survive with a sustainable economy. That means good transportation to and from Durango, as well as getting around town easily and economically.
Contact Durango Area Tourism Office Executive Director Frank Lockwood at email@example.com.